All Aboard Northern Ontario pushing to get Northlander back on track

A grassroots initiative to bring passenger train service back to northern Ontario towns and communities has left the station.

Despite increase in riders, route from Toronto to Cochrane corridor cancelled in 2012

The Northlander train readies for its final run out of Cochrane, Ontario in 2012. (Megan Thomas CBC)

A grassroots group has embarked on a journey to bring passenger train service back to northern Ontario towns and communities. 

All Aboard Northern Ontario wants to see the Northlander, a route that connected Toronto to Cochrane before it was cancelled in 2012, back in the region.

Currently, travel by vehicle is the only option, said group founder Eric Boutilier, even for those who seek medical treatment in larger centres.

"People are unable to be able to get around if they don't have a vehicle," Boutilier said. "If they're unable to drive, if they're seeking medical treatment in some of the larger cities, if they don't have access to a vehicle or someone who can drive them, their options are rather limited."

Currently, Ontario Northland provides bus service from Toronto to Cochrane, with prices starting around $160 for a one-way trip, according to trip planning website

Boutilier said the group's first goal is to work on a study demonstrating how many potential riders the service would accommodate, and its cost.

Through a freedom of information request, Boutilier says, the group was able to acquire recent statistics for the when the Northlander operated.

"Between 2009 and 2011, the last three years that the train operated fully, there was an increase of ridership [by] 8,000 people," Boutilier said. "The government is saying that...people weren't using the service, the train is no longer affordable. We're seeing evidence that points to the contrary."

In March 2012, then-Sudbury MPP Rick Bartolucci said the service ended as a result of a poor business model.

"No government in recent memory has worked harder than ours to make the ONTC viable," Bartolucci said. "We've made significant investments in the ONTC since 2003, but the organization is not on a sustainable financial path."

Bartolucci pointed out that, over the years, government subsidies increased — to the tune of $439 million —  but ridership remained stagnant.


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